Terrible, thanks for asking. I wish we could tell each other that when things aren't great.
Instead, we put on our game face and announce we're "just fine". Damned Kiwi stoicism. It kills. New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD (ages 15 to 19), and the number of Kiwis taking their own lives has grown each of the past three years.
Setting aside the most extreme cases of depression and despair, I wonder how many of us have honed our stiff upper lips to the point of petrification. When does an unflappable veneer become an Achilles' heel? What happens when the strong man or woman reveals his or her weakness?
I tell you this because it's been one hell of a week. Not the kind where someone has died. Not the kind where a doctor peers over a clipboard before rolling her chair alongside and drawing a diagram of a new affliction. Not even the kind where I've totalled my new-to-me car, yet walked away.
It's been a low-grade malaise kind of week. A week of kicked-in-the-teeth, salt-in-the-wound and every other stupid cliché I can exhume, because creative corners of my brain are clogged with apathy.
I'm not soliciting pity (though I'll have just a taste of yours, much like asking for a bite of dessert after a big meal). Instead, I suspect someone you know has also had a hell of a week. They could use your ear and, possibly, your shoulder.
They might tell you a woman backed into their car with enough force they'll need a new bumper. They might tell you the very next day a man slammed his car door into theirs without looking to see what he might be hitting (fortunately, the scratch after the latter incident was small enough to dismiss).
They might tell you they're tired of living life in limbo while a spouse works a faraway job. They would like to disclose all this, but restraint and self-denial block their way. They fear you might think they're less than:
Less capable. Less resilient. Less brave.
They are not, of course. But they can't see this in their funk. They're trapped in the muck of inertia, beneath the weight of expectations about concrete cups and stiff upper lips.
American research professor and author Brené Brown has built a career on exploring courage, empathy, vulnerability and shame. She argues we can't connect with each other unless we show our true selves - as people who cry when we're hurting, who wrestle with decisions; whose historical hurts and triumphs shape our psyches. She says, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness."
Vulnerability is reciprocal. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.
My self-concept is deeply rooted in coping: through illness, death, shifting country, raising children, starting anew ... I cope. Until I don't. And when even the breathless feeling of a hard run, sound of the ocean, smell of cut grass mixed with petrol or satisfaction that comes with starting the lawnmower engine after pulling the cord (only) three times fails to square my sadness, it's time to stuff the stoicism and see a friend - someone to whom I can respond honestly to the question, "How are you?"
Terrible. Thanks for asking.
I hope you reach out beyond copying and pasting a popular social media post aimed at suicide prevention. It says, "The door is always open ... we will always be available and you are always welcome ..." All this tells me is you're capable of Control + V and Control + C. Thank goodness for face-to-face friends who tell you to drop in. They mean it, too.
You probably know someone who needs to leave his stiff upper lip and concrete cup outside your door. Or maybe it's your turn to raid a friend's tissue box.
There's no dishonour in admitting life is tilting towards sucky at the moment. If only we allowed ourselves to believe it. As Brown writes, vulnerability is not a source of shame, but rather the birthplace of love, hope and empathy. "True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world."
In an age of disconnection, we spit-shine our selfies to present a near-perfect image to the world. What looks good on a timeline or CV often doesn't curb a hunger for contact and kinship. Showing other people our human-ness isn't easy, but it's real. And it helps.
IF YOU NEED HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youthline: 0800 376 633
- Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
- Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
- Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
- Samaritans 0800 726 666